A strong positive mental attitude is the first step towards success.
The human brain continues to change, adapt and develop over our whole lifetime, not
just during our childhood. So don’t tell yourself you’re too old to learn – you’re
never too old.
Make time for laughter every day, even if you don’t feel like it. Laughter lowers
blood pressure, reduces tension, and boosts feel-good chemicals in your brain, helping
you to study smarter. Hold a smile for 30 seconds, even force it if you’re miserable
– scientific research has shown that when we smile, we feel happy, even when we didn’t
to begin with. Somehow the brain gets fooled into thinking everything’s OK!
Don’t ‘burn the candle at both ends’ – staying up late into the night studying will
not improve your chances of success. In fact, it’s likely to do the exact opposite.
You need sleep to help you process what you have seen and to learn from that experience.
Too little sleep equals too little learning.
Stress literally poisons your brain cells. Make sure you always build in leisure
and relaxation time to your studies, even close to the exam.
Tell yourself you’re good enough to pass your exam every day, even if you don’t consciously
believe it. Your subconscious is unable to differentiate between truth and untruth
and simply believes what it is told. Eventually that belief will filter through to
your conscious mind.
Setting yourself study targets not only ensures you know what you’re doing, it ensures
you don’t fool yourself into avoiding those difficult areas you’d like to put off
When building a study timetable, make sure you build in variety in all its forms
– different subject areas, different difficulty levels, different study tasks such
as reading or making notes. This helps avoid boredom, which can adversely affect
Having a study timetable gives you a sense of control, which reduces stress levels
and increases your potential to learn.
When allocating your time to study, little and often is the key – short study periods
allocated relatively evenly throughout the week will be far more productive than
a couple of long study sessions over the weekend.
Build in time in your study timetable for a regular review of what you have learned
to date. This may seem like wasted time but repetition of a task is what strengthens
the neural pathways in your brain to the point where a memory is stored for the long
term, rather than quickly forgotten.
Although many students never even look at it (often to their cost), the official
syllabus for your exam should be essential reading for you.
Having a study buddy can be helpful, particularly if you’re studying on your own.
They can help motivate you, act as a support when you’re finding things difficult
and give you a kick up the backside when you’re slacking. But make sure the person
you choose is going to be an equal to you and not be the dominant one in the relationship
– if you think they might, you’d be better off alone.
You wouldn’t go on a long journey without a map to guide you to your destination,
so why would you start a course of study without knowing how you’re going to get
to the end successfully? Planning your studies is an essential task, not an optional
Never study for longer than 45 minutes without a break. Research shows conclusively
that this is the optimum length of time for a study period. Study for longer than
this and you could actually lessen the amount you learn.
Study Tools & Techniques
Starting to study is like starting a diet – it can be hell for the first few weeks.
But stick with it – keep toughing it out each time you feel like giving up, and before
long getting down to study will become second nature to you.
At the start of each study session, review your notes from the previous session.
Not only does this help you commit the learning to memory, it gets you started back
into the study groove and helps avoid panic. It’s like a warm up before exercising.
When things aren’t going well in your studies, when you feel like you’re not really
progressing and that you’re going nowhere, shock yourself out of the rut you’ve got
into by mixing it up a bit. Try something different, like studying in the morning
instead of the afternoon. Study in a different place, for longer or shorter periods.
Use diagrams instead of words for your study notes. The change should allow you to
break through the plateau you’ve got stuck on.
Here’s an interesting way of getting yourself down to study when you’re really finding
it difficult to settle down to your studies and keep finding distractions or reasons
not to start. Instead of sitting down at a desk for a long study session, study standing
up and for 10 minutes only, then stop studying and do something else like make yourself
a cup of coffee. Think about what you studied during the 10 minute session whilst
you’re making that coffee. After 10 minutes of relaxation, start another 10 minute
study session. Repeat this pattern. This method tricks your brain into thinking
you’re not really studying at all, and the panic you feel about studying will eventually
subside and disappear. Your concentration will improve, the panic will disappear,
and you’ll be more able to start your studies in the future.
Sophocles said “knowledge must come through action” and he was right. You need to
study actively, not passively. Don’t just sit there and read the textbook from cover
to cover and think it’s all going to make sense and stick in your brain - it’s not.
Instead, make notes, draw diagrams, set yourself “mini tests” to see what you’ve
learned, summarise a section using key words, ask yourself how what you’re studying
fits into what you’ve already learned, attempt any practice questions there are available.
But whatever you do, don’t just sit there and read!
Question practice is absolutely fundamental to success. Start question practice from
day one of your studies, not when you start your revision. It will be too late then.
Always remember that making mistakes is an essential and positive part of the learning
process. It’s only through making mistakes and learning from those mistakes that
we can progress. So never be too hard on yourself and think that because you’ve got
something wrong, you’re not going to succeed. Making mistakes is a sign that you’re
learning, that you’re making progress. Or as James Joyce said, “mistakes are the
portals of discovery”.
Make sure that you regularly review all of your study notes you’ve made to date.
Set aside some time in your study timetable to ensure you don’t skip this time. By
repeatedly reviewing the work you’ve already done, you’ll strengthen your understanding
and memories for later recall.
Making sure you include question practice from the start of your studies means that
when you get to your revision, you’ve already started it!
Your revision should be planned in the same way your studies should be. Produce a
revision timetable and use it to ensure you’re reaching the targets you need to.
Your revision period is not the time to try and learn new things. Far too many students
get sidetracked during their revision into looking at new material they’ve not covered,
when instead they should be concentrating on retaining and applying what they have
Don’t spend your time continually rewriting your study notes during your revision
stage. One rewrite only should be sufficient to produce a highly summarised set of
A revision timetable should follow the same basic concepts you’d use for a study
timetable. Build in variety, be it subject, topic, difficulty level, or study method.
Work in short bursts with frequent breaks. Try to stick to a maximum of 45 minutes
for each study period (except where questions require longer to answer). And use
repetition and review to help strengthen recall and memory formation.
When planning the time you’ll spend revising, try to build your planned effort up
gradually so that you reach a peak of activity just before the exam. That way, you’ll
avoid getting jaded and, come the exam, you’ll be used to working at maximum levels
of activity so the intense nature of the exam won’t be a shock to you.
One of the biggest causes of exam failure is a lack of timed question practice i.e.
attempting exam standard questions under exam conditions. Answering a question in
the time available is a skill that has to be learned through repeated practice. Yet
many students enter the exam hall having never attempted a single question under
timed conditions – how can they ever hope to make a decent attempt at a pass if they
have no comprehension of what they need to do to gain one?
Accept the fact you will never be fully prepared for your exam. Perfection is not
required to pass an exam anyway, so stop worrying you’ve missed something out and
focus on what you have done.